Amnesty International: Nigerian Military Abuses Rampant in War Against Boko Haram

Written by: David Wiley

Primary Source: Africa Militarism Watch

From a new Amnesty International (AI) study, the New York Times, (6/3/2015) reports: “In the course of Nigeria’s war against the Boko Haram terrorist group, at least 7,000 people have died in government detention because of brutal conditions, an additional 1,200 have been “extrajudicially executed” by Nigerian security forces, and at least 20,000 have been “arbitrarily arrested” by the authorities…” – See the AI report Executive Summary (14 pp in PDF) or  entire report (133 pp in PDF format).

In response the  the Nigerian military denied the charges and accused Amnesty of being biased (Nigerian Nation (6/4/2015). “The Defence Headquarters has denied yesterday’s accusation by Amnesty International against senior military officers of the Nigerian Armed Forces…Lt-Gen Azubuike Ihejirika: In a statement released by the Defence Headquarters, said that the allegation was geared towards continuation of blackmail against the military hierarchy in which the organisation had embarked upon as far back as the inception of military’s action against terrorist in the North East.”

“The military said that their officers mentioned in the report had no reason to indulge in such acts and accused the organization of just going out to gather names of specified senior officers, in a calculated attempt to rubbish their reputation as well as the image of the military.”

VOA News (6/3/2015) reports that Army chief spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade,

“…dismissed the accusations leveled against the military. He says Nigerians should be assured that the military will not be deterred in the fight to rid the country of Boko Haram militants, despite the allegations. Olukolade says the rights group appears to have an agenda to undermine the army’s resolve to combat terrorism in the country. He says the military is considering additional actions to respond to Amnesty International’s accusations.  “Indeed, it is an unfortunate accusation considering all the efforts that are being made here to make sure that human rights are strictly observed in all our operations. And also the desperation with which that report appeared to have been targeted at blackmailing the Nigerian military and specific officers. The officers mentioned in that report have no reason whatsoever to indulge in allegations that have been made against them,” he said.  “It is unfortunate the organization just went out and gathered names of specific officers in a calculated attempt to rubbish their reputation as well as the image of the Nigerian military. The action, no doubt, depicts more of a premeditated indictment aimed at discrediting the country for whatever purpose which we don’t know at this moment,” he added.

This new AI report follows on the annual Amnesty International Report 2014/15 which detailed the many Boko Haram crimes and atrocities in 2014 but also recorded many human rights violations and violent atrocities committed by the Nigerian military in responding to Boko Haram (p. 274-275):

In responding to Boko Haram, Nigerian security forces committed grave human rights violations and acts which constitute crimes under international law. Arbitrary arrests by the military continued in northeast Nigeria. The military was known to enter communities, forcing the men to sit down outside in front of an informant in order to identify suspected Boko Haram members. Those singled out were detained by the military. In November the Nigerian military released at least 167 detainees from custody, a small portion of those arrested.

Detainees were denied access to the outside world, including lawyers, courts and families, and were held outside the protection of the law. Detainees were usually not informed of the reason for their arrest; their families were not given information about their fate or whereabouts. By the end of the year few, if any, of those detained by the military were brought before a court or permitted to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

Many of those detained appeared to have been subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, as part of interrogations or as punishment. Detainees continued to die in military detention facilities as a result of torture or extremely harsh detention conditions. The government failed to investigate deaths in custody and denied the National Human Rights Commission access to military detention facilities.

On 14 March, Boko Haram gunmen attacked the Giwa military barracks in the town of Maiduguri, freeing several hundred detainees. Witnesses said that as the military regained control of the barracks, more than 640 people, mostly unarmed recaptured detainees, were extrajudicially executed in various locations in and around Maiduguri. One of those executions, captured in footage, shows people who appear to be members of the Nigerian military and the Civilian Joint Task Force (“Civilian” JTF) using a blade to slit the throats of five detainees, before dumping them in an open mass grave. Nine people were killed this way and, according to witnesses, other detainees seen in the video were shot.

In the new report, AI notes that, “The abuses constitute war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, the group contended in its 133-page report. It names a number of senior officers as responsible, including the Nigerian chief of defense staff, Alex Badeh.”

Since the beginning of the Boko Haram conflict the human rights abuses of the Nigerian military have bedeviled U.S. military cooperation.  After the Boko Haram kidnapping of 300 schoolgirls in Chibok in the Northeast, the U.S. provided surveillance drones and circa. 30 intelligence and security experts to help the Nigerian military try to rescue them. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, AFRICOM’s top general, also rushed to Nigeria to assist the Nigerian commanders in the crisis.  However, by May 2014, U.S. advisors and drone operators were pursuing Boko Haram from the base in N’Djamena, Chad instead of from Nigeria.

In May 2014, the New York Times (5/21/2014) reported that:

“American officials committed the administration to any effort to recover the girls safely. But they also made little attempt to mask their assessment that the Nigerian government, and specifically its military, must overcome entrenched corruption and incompetence to free the girls.  Ms. Sewall said that despite Nigeria’s $5.8 billion security budget this year, “corruption prevents supplies as basic as bullets and transport vehicles from reaching the front lines of the struggle against Boko Haram.” Morale is low, and desertions are common among soldiers in Nigeria’s Seventh Army Division, the main fighting unit in the northeast, Ms. Sewall said. Ms. Dory said that the Nigerian military’s heavy-handed tactics with Boko Haram risked “further harming and alienating local populations.”

Seven months later, the drone flights have dwindled, many of the advisers have gone home and not one of the kidnapped girls has been found. Many are believed to have been married off to Boko Haram fighters, who in the past six months have seized hundreds more civilians, including children, planted bombs in Nigerian cities and captured entire towns.”

See PDFs of all the Amnesty International Reports on Nigeria

Nigeria: Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands: War crimes committed by the Nigerian military: Executive Summary, 6/3/2015, 14 pp. By Amnesty International, Index number: AFR 44/1661/2015 – In the course of security operations against Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria, Nigerian military forces have extrajudicially executed more than 1,200 people; they have arbitrarily arrested at least 20,000 people, mostly young men and boys; and have committed countless acts of torture. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Nigerians have become victims of enforced disappearance; and at least 7,000 people have died in military detention. Amnesty International has concluded that these acts constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.

See entire report in PDF format 133 pp.: Nigeria: Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands: War crimes committed by the Nigerian military: Executive summary

Op-ed: Stars on Their Shoulders, Blood on Their Hands, By Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General., 3 June 2015

All Amnesty International Nigeria Reports

How technology helped us expose war crimes in Nigeria
By Christoph Koettl, Founder and editor of Amnesty’s Citizen Evidence Lab @ckoettl, 4 June 2015, 12:05 UTC – With citizen journalism and the availability of new technologies growing exponentially, human rights investigators are able to locate and review evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity at a speed never before imagined. Amnesty International’s Christoph Koettl explains how it’s done.

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David Wiley is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and African Studies at Michigan State University (MSU). He served as director of the African Studies Centers at MSU (1978-2008) and University of Wisconsin-Madison (1972-77). He has worked in Rhodesia and, with research on urban and rural environments, in Zambia, Kenya, and South Africa and participated in the struggles for democracy and majority rule in Southern Africa. He has been President of the national African Studies Association; Vice-Chairperson of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO; and co-chair and co-founder of the Council of National Title VI Centers and the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. He is a member of the U.S. Africa Network and has chaired international committees of the National Science Foundation, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Sociological Association. His recent research concerns environmental issues in South Africa, militarism in Africa, and international education in U.S. universities.